Clinton Urges Turkey to Uphold Rights, Press Freedom
Turkey must get its own house in order in terms of human rights and uphold press freedom before urging reforms in other countries, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said during a visit to the largest EU candidate member. EurActiv Turkey reports.
During her visit to Istanbul on 15 and 16 July, Clinton expressed her country's support for Turkey in its fight against terrorism and praised its role in the region.
However, she called on Ankara to address Western concerns over human rights and media freedom.
"If there is an area that I am concerned about with recent actions, it is the area of freedom of expression and freedom of the media," Clinton said, quoted by the daily Hürriyet. "I do not think it is necessary or in Turkey's interests to be cracking down on journalists and bloggers and the Internet," she added.
Recently, Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle expressed concern about the arrest of journalists in Turkey over an alleged plot to overthrow the government.
Clinton also called on Turkish officials to continue the constitutional reform process, which would push Turkey closer to EU membership.
Opposition praised for ending boycott
The US secretary of state met with both government and opposition representatives. She held a 45-minute meeting with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Turkey's main opposition party.
"She asked the party leader if the CHP could make any contribution in the new constitution to promote freedoms," deputy party leader Osman Korutürk was quoted as saying following the meeting.
Clinton reportedly praised the CHP leader for ending a parliamentary boycott following Turkey's recent general elections (see 'Background').
Clinton also expressed her support for a solution to the reunification of Cyprus "as soon as possible".
During a joint press conference together with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Clinton stated that preserving the status quo in Cyprus was in no one's interest. She said she would like to see a federation of two regions and two societies on the island as soon as possible.
Asked about a possible referendum in Cyprus in early 2012, Clinton recalled that the USA had supported the 2004 referendum, the result of which she described as "a disappointment". The Turkish Cypriot community on the northern part of the island had supported the 2004 UN plan, which was rejected by the citizens of the Republic of Cyprus.
Last week, top Turkish officials warned that Ankara would freeze ties with the EU presidency unless the issue was resolved before Cyprus takes its turn at the rotating six-month EU presidency in the second half of 2012.
Religious freedom in focus
Speaking at the 'High-Level Meeting on Combating Religious Intolarance', the US Secretary of the State said that her country would be "pleased to see new religious freedoms in Turkey" and called on the Turkish government to re-open the seminary in Heybeliada.
Heybeliada is an island in the Sea of Marmara which houses an 11th Century Greek Orthodox monastery. Following legislation adopted in 1971, the seminary was closed down.
Clinton also visited the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the first in precedence among all Rastern Orthodox bishops. Turkey recognises the Eucumenical Patriarch of Constantinople only as spiritual leader of its Greek community and calls him Greek.
Turkey's relations with Armenia and Israel were on Clinton's agenda as well. Before her meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Clinton stated that the USA would be pleased to see Turkey and Israel reconciled after relations detoriated earlier this year, when nine people were killed by Israeli soldiers aboard a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip.